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Music at Sunday Mass

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.
Ephesians 5, 19

Music at Sunday Mass

The Director of Music at Salford Cathedral, Martin Barry, underlines the importance of singing at Mass and offers useful tips for making the Sunday Mass a richer celebration.

We sing when we pray: this is something we learn as children, with songs in school, songs at church, songs for special times of the year such as Christmas. And in our parishes, even if we don’t always celebrate the Mass with song, we know that when we sing we make the Mass somehow more special, more complete. 

Why sing at Mass?

Why do we do that? It is something to do with the way singing words can make them come to life in a way that just saying them doesn’t quite achieve. Imagine a birthday party where the lights are dimmed, the cake is paraded in in triumph, and everyone solemnly joins in saying “happy birthday to you”. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? We know deep down that sometimes you have to sing to show you really mean something. And almost always, this involves singing together – when we utter the words at the same time, in the rhythm and melody of a familiar tune, we express the unity of our hearts in the unity of our voices. Think of a football crowd in full voice, when their team has just scored! As the old song has it, “How can I keep from singing?”

So too in Church, on the most special occasions, we sing our prayer and praise to God, because by singing together we become one together: an outward sign of our unity in and as the Body of Christ.

What to sing at Mass

There is a choice which we do not always get right: when we sing together at Mass, the songs can sometimes feel a bit like optional extras, that do not necessarily display a strong connection to the central actions of the Mass. But with careful choices, we can sing the most joyful words of the Mass itself, and by singing them make clear how much they matter. Among these most joyful words are Alleluia, Hosanna, Amen – and it’s these words which above all we delight in singing together. That means the most special of the people’s sung acclamations of the Mass are the Gospel Acclamation, and the Holy Holy and Amen in the Eucharistic Prayer (known, together with the acclamation which follows the consecration, as the Eucharistic Acclamations). Any parish community which wants to feel it is “getting it right” as far as singing the Mass is concerned, should have these wonderful sung acclamations at the core of every sung celebration. So if the singing at your parish Sunday Mass consists of the ‘hymn sandwich’ – hymns at the beginning of Mass, at the preparation of the gifts, at communion and after the end of Mass – and nothing else, it’s certainly time to move on.